Maine Open Lighthouse Day happens every September, and with over 60 lighthouses dotting Maine’s coast, visitors should consider lighthouses as a theme for their vacation.
Lighthouses are both historically significant as well as visually interesting, and come in various shapes, sizes and monikers. From the oldest lighthouse in Maine—Portland Head Light located in Cape Elizabeth and completed in 1791—to Whitlocks Mill Light—on the St. Croix River and the most northern in the state—these “Beacons of Light” were instrumental in helping sailors navigate the difficult waters and craggy shores that make up Maine’s tremendous coastline.
What is it about puffins that is so intriguing? Is it because they are both cute and strange looking (think a penguin with a clown mask on) at the same time and have a funny way (think Charlie Chaplin) of walking? Is it the clever way they line up a row fish on their beaks, ready to offer their young a smorgasbord?
Or perhaps it is that the only puffin habitat in the U.S. is exclusively in Maine (puffins are much more common in Iceland and Norway, Greenland), and we’re proud that, in just over 100 years, we have helped the population here surge significantly.
In 1900 there were only two Atlantic puffins known to nest in the United States, right on Maine’s barren Matinicus Rock. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 put a stop to puffins being hunted both for their prized feathers and eggs, and other more recent endeavors such as the Project Puffin Audubon Society, have helped with the great progress made on behalf of increasing the puffin population. Today, Maine provides a summer habitat for approximately 4,000 puffins each year. A long way from just 2!
Whatever the reason we find ourselves charmed by these small, odd birds, puffins are certainly rock stars here in Maine, and people have many ways to flock—pun intended—and catch the show:
Tune in to a puffin cam to watch the progress of fledglings!
Head out to Eastern Egg Rock, Matinicus Rock, Seal Island, Petit Manan and Machias Seal Island (not to be confused with the aforementioned Seal Island) on a puffin-watching cruise, where keen eyes commonly locate groups of puffins sitting in the water, nesting on the rocks, or flying by.
The Following Article is From an Interview of Meg Maiden by the Maine Office of Tourism | Photo Courtesy of Schooner Stephen Taber
Thank Captain Frank Swift.
It was his notion back in the 1930s to turn the classic ships now known as windjammers into places where people can relax, cruise and have the seafaring experience of a lifetime.
Those old ships, which were used for shipping cargo, were becoming obsolete with the birth of the steam engine and the emergence of railroads. But Captain Swift had other ideas—and the ships were saved, giving birth to an experience that is quintessentially Maine.
Today, windjammer cruises are incredibly popular, appealing to couples, families and groups of people just looking for a little fun and adventure on the Atlantic.
Captain Barry King, who helms the Schooner Mary Day out of Camden, follows in the footsteps of Captain Swift. “There’s nothing about my job that’s boring,” says Barry. “Sailing is pretty darn exciting, and we never know where we’re going.”
Yeah, you read that right—windjammer cruises don’t follow a set course or itinerary. “If you’re the kind of person who is wound up and needs a schedule and an itinerary, this isn’t the type of vacation for you,” Barry says, with his trademark honesty. “For me, it’s relaxing.” With the lack of an itinerary, you get to leave the stress of life behind. In a way, Maine’s true nature is personified in a windjammer: Just follow your own inner compass and let the wind be your guide.
Few know as much about windjammer cruises as Meg Maiden, marketing director for the Maine Windjammer Association. “We have eight ships in our fleet, and five of those have been designated as National Historic Landmarks,” she says proudly. Maine has the oldest and largest fleet of windjammers in North America. “They sail 20 weeks out of the year … the actual sailing season begins Memorial Day and ends on Columbus Day.”
So what does the typical (if there is such a thing) windjammer cruise look like?
“Windjammers can hold 21 to 40 people, depending on the size of the boat, and go on three-, four-, five- and six-day cruises,” says Meg. The first night, you sleep at the dock, and when you wake up the next morning, you get a chance to run into town and pick up things you may have forgotten or need for the trip. “Go get your beer and wine, because it’s BYOB,” she says. You sail about six hours each day, and you can get as involved as you want in sailing the boat. “Passengers can steer, navigate, raise sail, lower sail, help with the anchor, help cook—as much as they want to do,” Meg says.
She also reminds potential travelers: “You’re not stuck on a boat for a week.” They set sail in Penobscot Bay, originating from either Camden or Rockland, and you could visit numerous islands, including Vinalhaven, North Haven, Isle au Haut and Swan’s Island, to name a few. But the real allure is in the off-the-beaten-path, uninhabited islands that offer passengers access to a part of Maine that gives the state its singular mystique. “The captains know which ones they can go to,” Meg says, adding that “there are lots of places you can go that are pristine where you don’t see anyone—they’re ‘little gems.’”
Photo by Ben Magro
Schooner American Eagle Parade | Photo by Meg Maiden
Atlantic Puffins | Photo by Patrick Burns
Photo by Brian Thomas
Captain Brenda Thomas | Photo by Hazel Mitchell
Crew on Sail | Photo by Fred LeBlanc
Downeast Cruising | Photo Courtesy of Schooner Stephen Taber
Photo by Anna Davidson
Photo by Eiichi Okamura
Photo by Fred LeBlanc
Schooner Heritage at Sunset | Photo by Mikael Carstanjen
Schooner Heritage Galley | Photo by Fred Le Blanc
Stern of Schooner Heritage | Photo by James Boyle
Kids at Sail | Photo Courtesy of Windjammer Isaac H. Evans
Schooner Mary Day | Photo by Ed LeBlanc
Lobster Bake | Photo Courtesy of Schooner Heritage
Schooners Mary Day and Stephen Taber | Photo by Jen Martin
Crew of Schooner Mary Day | Photo by Barry King
Osprey on Nest | Photo by Barry King
Schooner Mary Day | Photo by Steve Guthier
Guests Having Fun| Photo Courtesy of Schooner Stephen Taber
Schooner Mary Day at Sunset | Photo by Ed de Mellier
Schooner Victory Chimes at Parade | Photo by Andre Albert
Schooner Victory Chimes at Anchor | Photo by Fred LeBlanc
The four-to-nine-person crew keeps you comfortable, and windjammer captains are unique characters that keep everyone entertained. Meg affirms, “They have great personalities and character. They love being out on the water, they love their vessels, they love being around people and sharing the coast of Maine.”
Captain Barry King has a passion for sailing and meeting people that is one of a kind. He says it best: “I get a chance to share the place I love with a group of guests—in my case, 28 new guests every week. I have spent my life exploring this coastline, and there’s something new for me every day.”
Windjammer cruises offer distinct experiences for people of different interests, ages and backgrounds. For families, a majority of cruises require that kids be at least 12 years old. They are perfect for anniversaries, family reunions and birthdays—a family can charter the entire boat.
And for the environmentally conscious traveler, Meg notes that windjammers are a very green form of transportation. “If you love the idea of wind power and green—it’s totally efficient. They use very little resources and hardly any electricity or water. And not a lot of fuel either,” she says.
It’s an adventure that’s priced right too—even if you’re a couple looking for a distinctive adventure and want to book a unique wine-tasting cruise. The average price is usually right around $1,000 per person for cruises of the six-day variety.
Throw in a little evening jam session (passengers who play are encouraged to bring an acoustic instrument), the gourmet food on board and a lobster bake in a unique setting like Pond Island, and a windjammer cruise—like so many Maine experiences—is something you won’t soon forget.
Captain Barry King sums it up: “This is the second-greatest show on earth, right behind P.T. Barnum.”
About Meg Maiden
After graduating from Amherst College, Meg Maiden moved to the Maine coast where she has been involved with boats ever since, first at WoodenBoat Magazine, followed by 25 years as the Marketing Director for the Maine Windjammer Association. She lives in Blue Hill and gets out on the water every chance she gets.
One of Maine’s most significant maritime traditions also involves a favorite Maine pastime: eating lobster! Sitting down to enjoy the delicacy is definitely the end goal, however it’s also important to take time to understand how Maine’s signature seafood item gets from the water to the table. Before donning the bib, cracking the claws and dipping the tail into the drawn butter, consider several ways of taking the time to understand the evolution of the iconic Maine lobster.
CHECK OUT THE (ART-Y) FACTS
Maine Maritime Museum Lobster Exhibit
There are a number of museums in Maine that have exhibits, collections and activities dedicated specifically to the Maine lobster. Visit the recently opened Lobstering & the Maine Coast at the Maine Maritime Museum, the largest permanent exhibit that tells the authentic story of Maine’s most iconic fishery. When you’re on Islesford, head to Boats and Buoys, Lobstering on Little Cranberry Island at the Islesford Historical Museum and check out this community-curated exhibit that features imagery and hands-on activities to celebrate the men and women who have fished the waters around Little Cranberry Island for generations. And if you’re island hopping, you can go over to the Swan’s Island Lobster & Marine Museum to experience how, through extensive preservation work, brothers Theodore and Galen Turner allow visitors access to antique equipment, old time fishing techniques, photographs, navigational tools in order to learn the story of commercial fishing in Swan’s Island, Maine.
Photo Courtesy of Maine State Aquarium
Learn how the humble lobster began as bait and even prison food before it eventually made its way to a highly sought-out Maine delicacy. The Downeast Fisheries Trail site provides an in-depth and informative article on the history and science of lobstering, and how finally in the 1800s the commercial industry started to flourish and lobster was on its way to being an economically important resource and high end food. The Lobster Issue of the Maine Thing Quarterly gives readers a plethora of lobster facts, insight into a day in the life of a lobster fisherman, information on the long-standing Maine sea-to-table movement and, of course, how/where to eat our favorite crustaceans. And just when you thought you knew all there was to know about Maine lobster, the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative offers a vast collection of resources and information on the iconic Maine sea creature including where to buy and how to cook and eat a Maine lobster.
Video Courtesy of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative
BEFORE YOU EAT THE ROLL,
SEE WHERE THE LOBSTER CAME FROM
Lobstermen at work | Monhegan Island, ME (Photo Courtesy of Thierry Bonneville)
A number of lobster fisherman/woman offer boat tours leaving from Bar Harbor, Portland, and Boothbay Harbor, among other ports. Before lunch or dinner, get out and see first hand how lobstering is done and even experience hauling traps right out of the water—talk about doing something of the beaten path! And since you worked so hard for your lunch or dinner, you’ll be more than ready to sample some fresh lobster–the hardest part will be deciding where to dine or what recipe to follow. Maine has a seemingly unending selection of places to get lobster, from the “best” or “most authentic” shacks to fine dining restaurants totraditional community beach bakes. You could also, of course, make your own lobster roll…
WHAT WE DO:
ENJOY LOBSTER EVENTS ALL YEAR, EVERY YEAR
Succulent Maine lobsters! Photo Courtesy of Thierry Bonneville
Every year in Coastal Maine there are year round, annual, and unique events and activities that center around the theme of lobster. For example, every year from June to August, the Maine Lobster Boat Races not only showcase participants’ sailing and boating talents, but spectators also really get into the spirit too as they cheer on their favorite boat. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Lobster Bicycle Ride has been circling the state since 2002—the routes vary from 15 to 100 miles and follow winding, country lanes and breathtaking rockbound coast; Bicycling Magazine recently recognized the century route as one of the TOP TEN in the country. Head to Rockland the very end of July to the first weekend in August—like thousands of attendees have since 1947—for the Maine Lobster Festival, a nationally and internationally recognized event and the ultimate festival for lobster aficionados!
Everyone knows that lobster is the quintessential Maine food, however we also have another “secret weapon” in our larder. The same marine ecosystem that produces Maine’s succulent lobster also works for producing some amazingly noteworthy oysters. The region’s cold, pristine waters and sheltered, tidal rivers are optimal for Crassostrea virginica (East coast oysters), and Maine is increasingly being recognized as one of the country’s premier oyster regions, evidenced by the high product demand.
To get an idea of just how prevalent oysters are in Maine, if you travel for example along the riverbanks Damariscotta and Newcastle—where many Maine oysters are grown—you will see piles and piles of middens, an indication of the thousands of years that people have been eating oysters in the area.
In this first installment of “Finding Maine Maritime Art”, we invite you to explore three southern coastal Maine towns worth visiting, each with major historical and commercial connections with the sea, and today are home to galleries featuring artwork reflective of those connections.
It is well known that Maine has an abundance of art, and many artists have been inspired by the natural beauty and picturesque surroundings of the state, using it as a backdrop for their work. Because of the 3,500 miles of coastline and the significant historical and traditional ties to the sea, it is not surprising that there are maritime themes within much of the artwork that has come out of Maine.